The Goa government under chief minister Pramod Sawant has promised to provide 16,000 litres of free water every month to each household from September 1. While the water bill of almost 300,000 families is expected to go down to zero, the state government will lose a monthly revenue of Rs 11.5 crore. This is the first time ever that a government in Goa has announced freebies for its people, a clear reminder of the nearing assembly election.
Goa is due to elect a new government in February 2022 and all political parties in the state have begun the exercise of finding allies. While the BJP gauges the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party’s (MGP) willingness to join forces, all eyes are on a possible alliance between the Congress and the Goa Forward Party (GFP). The GFP seems willing, but the Congress, true to its nature, is stalling.
While GFP president Vijai Sardesai claims he was informed by Dinesh Gundu Rao, Congress in-charge for Goa, that the party high command has given its nod to the alliance, according to state president Girish Chodankar, party leaders are yet to receive any communication on this subject. Meanwhile, on August 16, an impatient Sardesai announced GFP candidates in four constituencies—Mandrem, Haldona, Saint Andre and Thivim. “The Congress should take a call on the alliance by Ganesh Chaturthi (September 10),” says Sardesai. Political observer Rajan Desai believes that a Congress-GFP front could dampen the BJP’s chances of returning to power after a 10-year rule. “If they fight together, the Congress-GFP could damage the BJP extensively in south Goa where the minority voters are dominant,” says Desai.
The Congress and GFP were in a similar situation in 2017, when ongoing talks of an alliance were derailed after Luizinho Faleiro, then state Congress president, broke his promise at the last moment and fielded Jose D’Silva against the GFP’s Sardesai in his turf, Fatorda. In response, the GFP backed an independent, Edwin Souza, against Faleiro in Navelim and Sardesai ultimately extended the support of his party’s three MLAs to the BJP, making the late Manohar Parrikar chief minister, disregarding the Congress’ request for a post-poll alliance.
This time around, the Congress seems to have learned its lesson from the inability of then general secretary Digvijaya Singh to form a government in 2017 despite being the single-largest party in the state. It has appointed P. Chidambaram as an observer and tasked him with chalking out a poll strategy. The former Union finance minister, too, has been non-committal on the party’s alliance with the GFP. “We are preparing in all 40 constituencies. There is no talk of an alliance yet,” Chidambaram told reporters in Panaji on August 26.
To create a rift between the Congress and GFP, the BJP on August 18 inducted the Congress Fatorda block president Piedade Noronha and convenor Joseph Silva into its ranks. Losing Noronha, who belongs to the Scheduled Tribe, a community with a 25 per cent vote share in Fatorda, is a major setback for the party. The BJP’s possible candidate, Damodar Naik, also represents the ST community. If the Congress and GFP could resolve their differences in Fatorda, the alliance could give the BJP a tough fight. If not, the BJP is likely to benefit once again.
BJP on slippery ground
Shripad Naik, Union minister of state for tourism, has said that a BJP-MGP alliance could help avoid a division of Hindu votes. The MGP has not ruled out the possibility of an alliance with the BJP or any other party. Its president Sudin Dhavalikar has said that the final decision will be taken by the party’s central committee, adding that the MGP will contest 12 seats and back independents in some others. This could be taken as the party’s plan to go it alone.
Sawant is the first BJP CM to enjoy the support of two-third of the MLAs. The BJP has 27 MLAs and the backing of one independent—Govind Gaude. That the BJP has taken Goa seriously is evident from the back-to-back visits by national party president J.P. Nadda and general secretary (organisation) B.L. Santhosh in July.
Political observers believe a Congress-GFP front could dampen the chances of the BJP returning to power after a 10-year rule
The BJP has made it clear that it will contest the next election under Sawant’s leadership, but several ambitious ministers might create roadblocks. Health minister Vishwajit Rane, Rajya Sabha member Pramod Tendulkar and state BJP president Sadanand Shet Tanavade have thrown their hats in the ring. Moreover, at least three ministers, apart from Rane, want election tickets for their respective wives. Deputy chief minister Chandrakant Kavlekar is keen on the Sanguem constituency for his wife Savitri; Rane plans to field his wife Divya from Poriem; port minister Michael Lobo has staked claim on Siolim for his spouse Delilah; and former minister Pandurang Madkaikar wants his wife Janet to replace him in Cumbarjua.
Savitri and Delilah are politically active—Savitri had unsuccessfully contested the 2017 election on a Congress ticket in Sanguem, while Delilah is a member of the gram panchayat. Lobo could spell trouble for BJP candidates in Siolim and Saligao constituencies if his wife is not fielded from Siolim. Kavlekar, too, holds clout in four constituencies in south Goa and might damage the BJP’s chances there. Plus, Divya is husband Rane’s best shot at the chief minister’s chair. As per the plan, if she wins as an independent from Poriem, Rane could bargain for the top post in return for her support in a likely close contest.
Smaller parties in the fray
In 2017, as a new entrant in Goa politics, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had drawn a blank in spite of extensive campaigning by Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and a battery of influential people. This time the AAP is eyeing an alliance with the MGP. During a visit to Goa in July, Kejriwal assured the people of the state free electricity up to 300 units per month if his party is voted to power. The AAP’s chief ministerial candidate in 2017, Elvis Gomes, joined the Congress in August. The party is now banking on Mahadev Naik, a former BJP minister who joined the AAP in July.
Revolutionary Goan, an organisation led by former AAP leader Manoj Parab, has made quite an impact in north Goa, especially among the youth. “Those who are new in politics are pure. The established leaders are strong but they have failed to frame development policies for Goa. Our focus is on empowering the youth,” says Parab. The Revolutionary Goan is going to make its poll debut in 2022 and has the capacity to turn a few hundred Hindu votes in its favour, spelling trouble for the BJP.
Sensing that the path to power will be tough, CM Sawant is focussing on two subjects close to the Goans’ heart—iron ore mining and tourism. He says the recently incorporated Goa Mineral Development Corporation (GMDC) aims to provide employment to 300,000 people. “The GMDC will begin mining-related activities, like auctioning of several mining leases. The government will extract 20 million tonnes of ore…once it starts mining activity, it will continue to remain uninterrupted,” says Sawant. He has also promised to write to the Union home ministry requesting permission for charter flights to land in Goa before the tourism season begins on October 1. If that happens, international tourists could reach Goa, giving the state’s dormant tourism sector a new lease of life.
P. Chidambaram has been appointed by the Congress to chalk out a poll strategy (Photo by Chandradeep Kumar)
The Local Colour
The BJP and Congress are eyeing alliances with smaller parties like the MGP and the GFP, respectively, since these parties could determine the poll outcome in several constituencies
MAHARASHTRAWADI GOMANTAK PARTY (MGP): The oldest party in Goa after the Congress, the MGP is struggling to remain relevant in state politics. It ruled Goa in the 1980s but lost its sheen after it joined hands with the BJP, a new entrant in the 1990s. However, the MGP’s loyal voters— mainly upper caste and OBC Hindus—play an important role in at least seven constituencies in north Goa—Mapusa, Dicholim, Mayem, Pernem, Mandrem, Marcaim and Priol.
GOA FORWARD PARTY (GFP): Launched in 2016, the GFP won three seats in 2017 in its first election. It has a good presence in Margao and Fatorda in south Goa, as well as in Siolim and Saligao in north Goa. Inclined towards the Congress, the GFP wants to take revenge on the BJP for the humiliating treatment meted out to it in March 2018 when chief minister Pramod Sawant sacked GFP leader Vijai Sardesai from his cabinet.